Supply chain management: Kaizen best practices in logistics

Posted by Darren Dennis - Continuous Improvement Manager at YLUK on 25-Feb-2019 09:19:23
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From higher job satisfaction to improved operational efficiency, the benefits of Kaizen to businesses of all shapes and sizes are vast.  The underlying principle of Kaizen is to focus on small continuous improvements that can be actioned quickly to create manageable actions that contribute to overall long-term improvements, rather than setting unrealistic goals that could potentially lead to failures.Back view image of businessman drawing graphics on wall

Over recent years, the Kaizen philosophy has been widely accepted across many sectors all over the world – particularly in the production and distribution industries – and today is one of the core principles in lean supply chain management frameworks.  In our interconnected world, supply chains have grown and developed in both complexity and intricacy.  Kaizen in logistics allows improvements to be made at different stages of the supply chain without jeopardising the overall operation. 


Our work as a 3PL means we have implemented thousands of Kaizens for hundreds of logistics operations across a wide scope of verticals.   We've dealt with the good, the bad and the ugly - always learning from the experience and making improvements to our processes.  So, here’s our 7 step guide for achieving success with Kaizen in supply chain management:

1. Ask why.  The complex nature of logistics means that identifying the root cause of a problem can be a challenge.  The 5 why problem solving method aims to overcome this through a simple, but effective, approach of simply asking “why” at least five times.  Considering the reasons behind a problem will expose the causal factors that contributed to the issue and the underlying problem.Big question in head

2. Solve it together. Through collaborative problem solving, the issue can be viewed from multiple angles and perspectives.  As a 3PL, we will have various stakeholders that all view the problem differently.  By bringing key people together, different opinions and ideas can then be incorporated to reach an informed outcome.  

3. Reflect on progress. Reflecting on progress is a key aspect for supply chain management and it’s no different when introducing changes.  Document all activity and continually update processes.  Seeing the development of your actions, and learning from both successes and mistakes, will ultimately improve the entire process.  To put it simply, good processes bring good results! 

4. Measure performance. Quantitative data is vital in measuring performance and provides an effective means to analyse whether an improvement is working.  Your 3PL provider should already be working to a set of agreed Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  Setting an improvement target and measuring performance against this goal will show how successful the Kaizen initiative has been.


5. Go to Gemba. Gemba is a Japanese term that can be translated as ‘the real place’.  It refers to going to the place where the problem is in order to truly understand the issue.  For logistics, this often refers to the warehouse floor and involves understanding the problem from this perspective.

6. Treat the cause. It is important to identify and fix the root cause of a problem, rather than only addressing the knock-on effects.  Otherwise, the problem will continue re-emerging and draining resources.  The complex nature of supply chain management means that there will not always be one sole underlying cause.  Your 3PL provider should work with you to determine the root cause, or causes, and implement solutions to ensure they do not reoccur.

7. Everyone should be involved.  A guiding principle of Kaizen philosophy is that everyone should be involved at every level of the business – from office workers to board members and cleaners. Everyone’s views are just as important and should be listened to.  That’s why teamwork is key for achieving success with Kaizen. 

Following the Kaizen methodology can bring vast improvements to your operation and can be a key tool in supply chain management.  It offers a simple and effective means to identify quick win improvements at a relatively low cost, but getting it wrong could lead to employees feeling unengaged and reluctant to share new ideas.  Get it right with our free Kaizen template and use our experience as a global 3PL to ensure your implementations are a success.

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Topics: Kaizen

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